Can Police See What You Search Online in PA?
Regardless of what you might think, our online data isn’t kept secret. Users can access someone’s personal information in the click of a button, so it only makes sense to wonder if police can do the same.
So, how likely is it for the cops to track what you do online? Can you be arrested over a Google search, or have your Internet history used against you in court? The answers depend on your case.
Here’s more information on when police can see your search history and how to avoid incriminating yourself online.
Are Internet Searches Reported to Police?
You might be worried to look something up if it seems suspicious, like topics of sex crimes or drug possession charges. Maybe you’re in hot water with the law already, or you’re simply curious and want to avoid raising eyebrows.
Search engines don’t report your browser history to the police in most cases. An exception is if you view or download child porn online—they can flag this activity to law enforcement.
When Can Police Access Your Online Data?
Generally, police can’t search your computer unless they have a warrant. This applies to local, state, and federal law enforcement officials. In order to obtain this warrant, officers must have probable cause, or a valid reason to suspect you of a crime that’s directly tied to your Internet usage.
This essentially means if you didn’t commit or plan to commit a cybercrime, police probably aren’t monitoring your online activity. Even if you’re charged with a different crime, it will likely not be searched if your Internet usage isn’t relevant to the act.
Suppose someone wants to know the penalties for sexting a minor. They can research more about the topic online without repercussions or law enforcement even knowing. However, if the police received a tip that an individual engaged in sexting with a minor, they could obtain a warrant to search the suspect’s electronic devices.
Police might discover frequent searches related to sexting a minor in the browser history, chat room messages, photos, emails, or other evidence on the computer. Since sexting someone under the age of 18 is a cybercrime, police have the right to search the suspect’s internet.
Types of Cybercrimes
There are multiple crimes specific to the Internet, commonly known as cybercrimes. These are typically federal offenses and carry more severe punishments.
One of the most common examples of a cybercrime is child porn. Viewing or possessing online pornography depicting someone under the age of 18 is illegal. The penalties for child porn charges are notoriously severe and can follow you for a lifetime.
Other online activities may lead to an arrest, including:
- Sexting with a minor
- Federal identity theft
- Online solicitation of a minor, through a chat room or other mode of communication
- Online prostitution and solicitation
- Online stalking
- Murder-for-hire, i.e. contacting a “hitman” on the dark web
- Wire fraud
What if You Use a Private Browser or Delete Your History?
Private browsing isn’t truly private. If you’ve committed a cybercrime or believe you’re currently under investigation for one, police might be looking through your search history even if you’re in private or “incognito” mode.
If you delete your search history, police can still contact your internet provider and obtain those records. With a court order, they can subpoena the digital evidence and use it against you in court. You will need a relentless criminal defense attorney to defend you during trial and weaken the prosecution’s evidence.
Need Legal Help?
If you’ve been accused of a crime in Pennsylvania, it’s best to talk to a lawyer. The dedicated criminal defense team at Worgul, Sarna, & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC are here to provide a robust investigation and guide you on the next steps in your case.